by Christy Gualtieri
23 years ago this week, Hurricane Andrew, a behemoth Cateogry Five storm, lashed South Florida and demolished hundreds miles of homes in its wake. My family and I lived just six miles from the storm’s eye, the calmest part of the storm and also the most dangerous, since the back half of the storm would ferociously arrive just when people thought the storm was over.
The warning flag for hurricanes is a red square with a black square at its center. When the storm is approaching, the signal changes to two red and black squares, one above another. In the days before the hurricane, flags like these could be seen all over the news, flapping furiously, warning of the danger that would inevitably come.
As I’ve written before, my mother is very ill. We received news this week that the chemotherapy regimen she was on was not improving things, and although the doctor wants to try another chemotherapy cocktail, hope is wearing thin that the medication will be able to slow the speed in which tumors are multiplying in her bones and in her organs. We knew it might not be good news – she had lost a serious amount of weight in the last few months, her exhaustion level had grown, and although she’s kept her wonderful, sparkling personality, it’s easy to see the physical toll the illness has taken.
As the storm of her illness and the news of its progress has headed towards us, my body had begun raising their own “red flags” of warning: unusual stomach pain where I used to have none; headaches, and a craving for comforting (and really very unhealthy!) food. I began to feel my stress level rise. I picked fights with my husband for no good reason. My tone became sharper when talking with my preschooler. All of the stress I’ve been feeling has manifested itself in physical ways, yet these ways weren’t the problem. My mother’s illness is.
Sometimes, we tend to mistake the “warning flags” in our lives for the real issue, when in fact there is so much more beneath the surface. Sometimes we’re not even aware of it. Sometimes we deliberately hide behind these flags in an effort to forget the real trouble lying underneath.
What is sure, however, is that all the hiding and ignoring of these signs does us no good. When we lose the ability to communicate and be honest with ourselves, we do ourselves a great disservice at best; and at worst, do ourselves great harm.
I see the warning flags in my life. I know what they mean: they are a signal for me to work hard with my therapist and create a plan that can help me cope with all of my emotions during this extremely difficult time.
What are some warning signs in your life that you’re beginning to recognize? What do they mean to you? If things are becoming too overwhelming, take some time to really investigate what’s going on – meet with your therapist (or find one if you haven’t yet!) and learn ways of managing the stress that might be ruling your life. The work is hard, but it is very, very rewarding.
Until next time, be well!
Christy Gualtieri is a freelance writer specializing in pop culture, religion, and motherhood. She lives in Pittsburgh with her husband and son, blogs at asinglehour.wordpress.com, and tweets @agapeflower117. Follow PghPsych on Facebook and Twitter for daily updates, inspirational quotes, articles, and different events and causes related to good mental health!